Continuity in Flux: The Best Way To Watch The X-Men Movies
When Hugh Jackman retracts his claws for the last time in Logan, it marks the end* of his time with that character. Over the past 17 years, Jackman has prevailed as the king of comic book characters, staying in the role while we have seen the world cycle through Chris Evans as two different cornerstone Marvel characters, three Spider-Men, four Infinity Gems, five presidential terms, six movies revolving around The Baggins Family and a ring, and seven Scientology-approved girlfriends for Tom Cruise.
But during this streak, the X-Men movies have gotten sloppier with continuity than Don Cheadle introducing himself as Rhodey in Iron Man 2. There’s been restarts, retcons, time travel, and an on-screen version of Deadpool so bad it took them seven years to fix it. The story is so out of whack, Thelma Schoonmaker herself couldn’t make sense of it. And with three different extended universe or direct sequels in the works, an 'X-Force' television series and a continuity adjacent Legion currently airing on prestige television powerhouse FX, the supply chain shows no sign of stopping.
So it’s up to us to make sense of what we have now. To do so, I first reflected on what I could remember from the series; I did some research, and then spent sleepless nights with a whiteboard and markers, corkboards and strings of thread. Finally, I strapped in for the 19 hours of viewing required and made sense of the order I had found.
I present to you my notes. They are varied and often nonsensical, but I’ve made about as much sense out of them as Bryan Singer has made out of this universe for me.
Chapter 1 - X-Men: First Class (2011)
Prep up a bowl of popcorn, this one is a delight!
Really, the only logical place to start. The Xavier/Raven friendship doesn’t make any sense to start the story, but the ending beats put them on a path where they would go their separate ways. The Magneto storyline, complicating a very tidy story at the start of X-Men, plays out logically. The Hellfire Club is a wasted entity (a common Marvel problem), and it’s best to not think much about what becomes of Emma Frost or the baby that January Jones and Matthew Vaughn most definitely probably made.
Drink a tall glass of water. We are going to need some hydration for the flop sweat in the next one.
Chapter 2 - X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Get a bowl of M&M’s cause the munching and crunching will help cover the noise and nonsense that’s about to occur.
I mean, let’s just get this one out of the way now. It’s important to put any film whose continuity is wholesale erased prior to Days of Future Past; you go a long way to erasing their continuity blips and false starts. Two huge continuity flubs/wastes, the presence of a second, younger than First Class Emma Frost and Wade Wilson: Super Soldier who becomes a mouthless mutant … thing.
We’re two hours in. This is a good time to shotgun a Red Bull and re-up with lean protein, cause it gets better for a bit.
Chapter 3: X-Men (2000) and X2 (2003)
Ahh, here we go. Fast and sufficient origin stories. World building. The backbones of X-Men metaphor storytelling. Non-obtrusive Stan Lee cameos! Easter Eggs, the Blackbird, pithy commentary about spandex based superhero costumes. X-Men was an excellent building block to superhero film making that Sam Raimi would optimize and Ang Lee would attempt to deconstruct within the next few years.
It has its problems. You’re gonna want a shot ready for the infamous ‘Do you know what happens to a Toad when it’s struck by lighting?’ line. Try not to think about Sabertooth being played by Liev Schreiber in Origins and a scrub pro wrestler here. If you really want an excuse for that, remember, Logan took a adamantium bullet to the dome and maybe sees things different. It’s a waste of one of the best possible configurations of The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, but it’s mostly forgivable.
And it has to be watched in conjunction with X2. The story almost seamlessly transitions from one to the next, the natural extension and timely conclusion of the Logan/Weapon X story. The story opens at a 10 with the Nightcrawler Oval Office raid; for my money one of the greatest superhero movie set pieces ever, and continues to the night time raid on the X-Mansion, relying on staging and practical stunts with just a dash of mutant ‘wow’.
The finale has its issues. The Phoenix storyline is set up but never fully realized to Singer’s original vision. Lady Deathstrike is condensed down to none of the complications of the comic book character and her relationship to Logan, continuing a trend of reducing decades worth of backstory to less than a few lines of dialogue.
Right now, the story is on a high note. You’re gonna need stamina, but also a healthy buzz, to get thru this next one. Do two cycles of yoga positions, but down a boilermaker every time you reach Warrior Pose.
Chapter Four - X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Wonder about the effectiveness of using a cheese grater on your mutant wings. Try not to think about high school when you had a boyfriend you couldn’t touch either. Think about how awesome it is that Vinnie Jones is that big and brooding, but then watch the special features and see it was all a costume. Try not to cringe when a proto-meme makes it into a major motion picture.
See Logan without his shirt. Make mental note. Don’t think about how he’s 20% more defined than he was two movies ago. A seriously respected Middle Eastern actress of color played a character who was not a stereotype of any kind. She is killed by a porcupine man. This is not ok.
Order Postmates as the credits roll. You’re gonna need three spicy tuna rolls and a bunch of saki. It’s not racist, it’s pavlovian.
Chapter 5 - The Wolverine (2013)
Strap in for a deep contemplation on love and the life we attempt to live when we lose it.
Call it Eat. Pray. Snikt.
Write a draft in the notes on your phone about the similarities between Logan being brought down with arrows and Kurosawa's Throne of Blood.
Start to explain it to your wife. She asks if you’ve showered today. Tell her you will if she has the cleaning leaders scrub you down with brushes in the seaside bath tub.
She says she’ll be at her sisters till you’re done with your little exercise.
Watch her car leave. Smoke a big fat joint. We are about to time travel.
Chapter 6 - X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014)
Try not to think about the discrepancies between the relatively modern world at the end of The Wolverine and the enhanced dystopia in Days of Future Past that has resulted in no aging except for Logan’s wisp of gray hair.
Go back to the 60’s. Logan is now 300% more defined than he was in the 90’s. Hand wave at how that’s possible.
Use Twitter Advanced Search to find the times you made fun of the Quicksilver costume. Squeal with giddy glee when he gives the wedgie to a security guard.
Fire up a Swanson TV Dinner and try not to think about the historical ramifications that the RFK Stadium/White House incident would have to culture and policy at large.
Logan wakes up and everything is happy. He’s also still really cut like it’s the 60’s. Outline a play for time travel as weight loss.
Chapter 7 - X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
History has been completely rewritten so we need to show how it got this way in the intervening years. Reintroduce characters who have already been introduced in X2 because their original character design makes more sense here, and the ramifications of when and where they were born are irrelevant to fashion.
Hire A ‘Flair Bartender’. We are going to go 80’s so hard, we are going to need a cocktail lineup worth it.
Everyone’s a baby but also Cyclops is insufferable. It’s been 10 years and Jennifer Lawrence hasn’t aged a day. Feel really sketchy about the cast aging down and Bryan Singer still directing. Ask yourself, ‘Do we really need a Wolverine cameo?’.
It’s still the 80’s, so call up your sketchy friend Jeff and make a pile of cocaine on your coffee table. We need this final shot of adrenaline to make it thru.
Chapter 8 - Deadpool (2016)
Ponder what it even means to be a mutant anymore. Wonder if Mekhi Phifer has any long dormant projects he would like to get a Hollywood Second Chance at. Take 2 Xanax when Colossus suddenly speaks with a Russian accent after years of being a baby faced Mid-Westerner. Say ‘Fuck’ more than twice! Remember the time you saw this on opening weekend and the parent in the row in front of you covered up their kids eyes in the strip club scene, but not the graphic, self amputation.
Wake up to notes strewn on a Jack In The Box taco sleeve. It’s impressive because you didn’t even Postmates Jack In The Box.
Review your Fitbit. Find that you walked to the Jack In The Box an extra two miles past the closest one, Look at the Taco Sleeve again. It’s a carefully plotted mind map closely explaining the continuity to the X-Men movies. You rush to lift it to better lighting, but the combination of greasy lettuce and sauce packets have eroded thru the sleeve, and the work is lost.
Try to transcribe your experience before deadline. Leave out references to hard drugs before sending to editors. Wouldn’t want that published.
So, to recap: Much like Star Wars have a ‘Machete Order’, you can place the X-Men movies in what I like to call ‘The BAMF Chronology’ that closest displays a functioning continuity and storyline. They are -
X-Men: First Class
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
X-Men: The Last Stand
X-Men: Days Of Future Past
Enjoy Logan, everybody!
*It won’t be the end. You know it. I know it. Jackman knows it.